Pre-Socratic linguistical philosophy

Door Mbk282 gepubliceerd op Saturday 11 January 17:23

There were quite a lot of pre-Socratic meta-physicists in Ancient Greece. In this paper two of them, who were particularly interested in the connection between logos (account or reason) and reality, will be discussed.

               The first to be discussed is Heraclitus. Heraclitus thought that language was deceiving. He thought that the distinctions we make between opposites are not actually present in reality. We create these distinctions between opposites with our language but we must realize that we cannot possible refer to anything without referring to its opposite. In reality opposites aren’t distinct but they are two sides of the same medal. Reality is one big unity. Logos creates the foundations of our perceived reality. “They would not have known the name of justice if these thing [unjust things] did not exist” (Heraclitus, B23).

              Following Heraclitus was Parmenides. Parmenides accepted the fact that you can’t possibly refer to something without referring to its opposite. This means that any time you are judging anything you are not only saying something in the format of ‘it is X’ but also something like ‘it is not Y, nor Z, nor Q, etc. ’. He then took it further. He reasons: “nothing is not” (Parmenides, B6) and “neither can you know what is not (for it is not to be accomplished), nor can you declare it.” (Parmenides B2). This means that sentences that state ‘it is not’ cannot possibly lead to knowledge of reality because saying something ‘is not’ in an absolute sense excludes it from the domain of reality. Since every judgment not only states that something is but also implies that something is not, judgments cannot lead to true knowledge about reality. The only claims that provide true knowledge are those that claim that something is in an absolute sense because these are the only claims that don’t need to the non-being of something else.

              In a sense, Parmenides was actually especially concerned with the link between language and non-reality because he finds that men very often refer to the non-being of stuff, whilst this is not even possible. All those claims are doxa (opinion). Heraclitus too mostly analysed how language is incoherent with reality, pointing out that language creates unreal distinctions in our perception.


Sources: A presocratic reader: Heraclitus B23, Paramenides B2 and B6.

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